“I’m writing a system, documenting it, and I’m wondering how much detail do I provide? How will I know if I’ve provided too much detail or not enough?”
A system that is complicated can be difficult to document. To begin I often suggest clients start by making a flow chart of the critical benchmarks in their system. This should provide a broad stroke overview of the system and allow you to gain perspective on how much detail you need. Systems are not only for making sure the operation is consistent and predictable for your current staffing, but also for the new employees who will be expected to operate it. We suggest dummying the system down to the level you would anticipate any new employee you would hire would be at. If you’re a computer company and this system is for a software engineer you’d expect a new hire to understand that basic language wouldn’t you? You have to build your system for the audience you expect to use it. Perhaps that’s the best guideline of all. Judging the detail of any system you document is best done in the field. Test it with your people. In fact I suggest you have your people write your systems.
Don't expect perfection on day one. And don't be surprised if the system needs adjustment almost immediately. It's normal, especially for large, elaborate systems, to need revisions and fine-tuning in the early going. It's a continuous process of monitoring, evaluation, and revision. Quantify and track the results and the operation of the system (monitoring). Continually look for ways to improve it (evaluation). Make improvements as soon as you find them (revision).
You can’t really tell by the systems use how much detail is enough or not. Perhaps the best measure other than your current people being able to follow it successfully will be when you hire a new employee. Are they able to follow the system? Trusting that you’ve hired correctly, the new employee should be able to refer to the system and follow it in order to provide the expected outcome.
Are you okay with this trial and error method? Do you need help developing systems and specifically having a template to create systems in your business? Any system needs monitoring, evaluation and revision. The world, our people, your customers change. Having the systems documented provides you with the ability to make critical changes when the outside elements begin to alter how your system is performing. Most small businesses are doing the big things right. The best business concentrate on the details and do a multiplicity of things exactly correct each and every time. Getting the details correct on your systems can mean the difference between being a good company and a great company.